With the whole of the 2020-21 schools’ Rugby League season wiped out due to Covid-19 and the last competitive inter-school games having been played in March 2020, the 2021-22 season has begun tentatively with boys and girls high school teams in action.

Qualifying league competitions for the Yorkshire stage of the Champion Schools competitions are also taking place for boys, along with `developing schools’ leagues and `emerging schools’ festivals. `South of the River’ schools feature strongly in the girls teams which have qualified for the next stage of the competition, two particular schools are making names for themselves, and the names are a little confusing as they are Cockburn and Cockburn John Charles – both part of the Cockburn Multi-Academy Trust. So here’s a bit of a history lesson!

In 1902 the Southern Higher Grade School opened in Beeston. It became Cockburn Higher Grade School in 1904, named after George Cockburn, a former chairman of the Leeds School Board (the forerunner of the Leeds Education Authority). The school became only the fourth winners of the Goldthorpe Cup in 1904-05. It continued on the same site near the corner of Dewsbury Road and Burton Road until the late 1980s when it relocated to the Parkside Secondary School building on Gypsy Lane.

For many years it was a grammar school (for pupils who passed their eleven-plus) and football was the main winter sport. When the school became comprehensive in 1972 it took up Rugby League again, but had to wait until 1993-94 to win its second ever trophy (the Under 12 Llewellyn `Sevens’ Trophy).

Whilst Cockburn School has kept the same name for almost 120 years now, in contrast Cockburn John Charles only took on its new name in 2018. In its previous incarnations down the years Cockburn John Charles has had much success in schools’ rugby league. It was previously called South Leeds (Under 12 Yorkshire champions in 2011), which was a merger in 2004 of Matthew Murray and Merlyn Rees (both Rugby League playing schools at the time). Merlyn Rees itself was a new name in 1992 for a school which had previously been Belle Isle Middle School (which produced some notable teams and individual players, such as Darren Webb, Sonny Nickle and Karl Pratt, who went into the professional game) and before that Belle Isle Secondary School, with its own strong history and tradition for a number of years, and a long list of pupils who progressed into professional Rugby League.

Returning to this season, another south Leeds school, Morley Academy, is also amongst the qualifying teams, the full list being as follows: Year 11: Cockburn & Corpus Christi; Year 10: Cockburn John Charles & Cockburn; Year 9: Cockburn John Charles & Corpus Christi; Year 8: Brigshaw & Morley; Year 7: Farnley & Morley.

More information about the history of schools’ Rugby League in the city can be found on the official website: https://leedsandhunsletsrl.wixsite.com/mysite-4

Steve Boothroyd


Leeds & Hunslet Schools’ Rugby League